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Nov 30, 2019 07:28 AM EST

US Schools All Set to Accept and Teach English to Refugees and Migrant Kids

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Flags of different countries flutter from the ceilings of Valencia Newcomer School's outdoor hallways, where more than 200 children from around the world are studying English skills and American classroom traditions need to thrive.

When the school year starts, the rules are often hard to understand for the refugee and immigrant children. A kid may be fascinated by a light switch they turn off and on excitingly. Another is shocked at a whistle or a roaring overhead helicopter that reminds of a back home dispute.

But fears are melting away as the children adjust, said Valencia Principal Lynette Faulkner, who calls the school their "safe place." Soon they are standing in line, raising their hand, holding their feet on the floor. They are learning English, and making friends with other students from different cultures.

The public school has been accepting students from countries like Burma, Eritrea, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Cuba for an additional year of focus since the fall of 2018 before transitioning to mainstream schools. This year's eighth graders down to kindergarten comes from 21 countries and speaks fifteen languages.

Valencia is one of a handful of U.S. public schools dedicated to helping some of the thousands of children who arrive in the country every year, even as the Trump administration wanted to drive the annual refugee limit down to a historic low of 18,000. Last month, no refugees arrived in the U.S.

The schools are not necessarily in cities with more refugees, but where the initiative to create them was taken by local education officials. In Indianapolis there are similar schools. Also in Houston, Fort Worth, Greensboro in North Carolina, Rhode Island and Providence.

Arizona is ranked eighth among refugee resettlement states. The number dropped from 4,110 in fiscal year 2016 to 998 in 2018, and then slightly increased to 1,216 for the 12-month period ending September 30. Around half of them are children.

Gov. Doug Ducey has not yet commented on the executive order of President Donald Trump requiring refugees to be rejected by states and cities. At least five states have stated that they are going to accept refugees, and no governor has said they plan to keep them out. Many departments sued for keeping the order last week.

It is uncertain whether the lower cap on refugees from the Refugee School Impact Program of the Office of Refugee Resettlement would already impact to minimal funding for school districts.

Immigrants and other newly arrived children from abroad will attend immigrant schools if they need help with Basic English, including those born in the US who were expelled but returned to the country.

Sarah Smith, senior education manager for the non-profit International Rescue Committee, said refugee and other immigrant children who lose a home or parent can suffer from toxic stress. This is a concept used by child development experts to respond to long-term adversity.

To set the mood and make a happy environment, the walls are painted with brightly colored letters inside the classrooms. At round tables, small groups of kids face each other as they listen to a teacher qualified to teach English lessons for non-native speakers. Children also have education in math, drawing, and music. They are also given physical activities for their overall wellness.

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